Here’s what lurks beneath the ‘quiet quitting’ trend
By: Rachel Marsden
PARIS — “Quiet quitting” is the latest trend spawned on social media that
encourages workers to do the bare minimum required to stay employed while
refusing to go above and beyond. It’s easy to write off those who coined the
term as inherently lazy. But it’s not quite that simple or limited. At least
half of the U.S. workforce is now comprised of “quiet quitters,” according to a
Gallup poll published last month. And there’s a lot of blame to go around.
It’s safe to say that the young people who adhere to the concept are generally those who have been catered to their entire work lives. Some of us in older generations have never chosen opportunities based on whether there were free snacks, a nap room, or a foosball table at the office. But the younger generation entered the workforce at a time when the competition for workers was so stiff that perks could make the difference. So they grew accustomed to being spoiled by their employers.
But there was a catch with these perks. Most of them are geared to making you hang around longer at work and to consider the workplace as a sort of second home. So when the Covid pandemic hit and everyone shifted to home working, the siren call of the bed or TV in the next room — or of your own foosball table — led to resentment over management’s demands to be present and logged onto the corporate platform. Before Covid, you could be present at work while napping or playing an arcade game, and still get credit for “working”. Then suddenly, in the Covid era, you couldn’t. All that fun and freedom was yanked away and they were stuck staring at their job in all its bare naked glory. And some of those jobs clearly looked much better with fancy clothes on. Nothing makes a worker acutely aware of how much they’re actually working than a home office with keystroke logging software. Unless, of course, they love their job so much that they don’t notice time flying by. But how many fit into that category?
And herein lies yet another problem. The digital economy has created many jobs that are widely available and well-paying, but intellectually not that compelling except to a much narrower segment of the population than actually work in those positions. How many of these workers actually feel like they’re doing something meaningful and not just collecting a fat paycheck? How many of them work to live instead of live to work, or at least feel a sense of life purpose in their work?
One could argue that you don’t need to feel fulfilled at work and that you should just get on with it and be grateful that you’re not living on the streets. That’s a valid point, particularly when just starting out in the workforce and lacking experience. But it’s also not likely that the “quiet quitting” movement applies to these workers, in practice. Or at least it shouldn’t if they had any brains. It’s hard to imagine a faster way to get drop-kicked out of a minimum wage gig in favor of the next guy standing in line than acting like the company should revolve around you. Presumably, we’re talking about people who are at least in career-track positions and whose salary includes some flexibility for demands to be made of them.
The “quiet quitting” movement implies a lack of purpose in work since it suggests that workers should separate their own ego from what they do. How sad that so many workers are apparently in a situation where they feel that they don’t feel at one with what they do. Clearly the money that seduced many of them into these jobs really can’t buy happiness.
But are employers also to blame for contributing to the problem by creating work environments which, despite the perks, are largely toxic and not conducive to wanting to go the extra mile? The answer arguably lies here in France.
For all the romanticization by Americans of French work life, the five weeks of annual paid vacation, and labor strikes in favor of better rights and privileges, the reality is much less appealing.
Before moving to France nearly 15 years ago, it was hard to imagine why the relationship between bosses and workers here was so tense, and it was easy to chalk it up to French workers being spoiled brats in search of ever more entitlements. Aside from the infamous French labor strikes, there has even been a case of factory workers of the U.S. company, Caterpillar, taking their managers hostage at the office. But after spending some time working inside French companies, it doesn’t take long to realize that the working conditions generally aren’t conducive to actually wanting to be at work, even when you love what you do.
The average French workday can basically be broken down as 30 percent lunch, 20 percent coffee or smoke breaks, 30 percent drama and intrigue — which leaves about 20 percent of the workday for actual work. Since there isn’t much productivity during the actual workday, in many French companies there’s an unspoken contest between colleagues to see who can stay the latest after quitting time. The “quiet quitter” who leaves on time is frowned upon, even if they spent their day at the desk or worked through the two-hour lunch in order to do so. These people often end up being targeted by the boss and by colleagues for harassment as a result of refusing to go above and beyond the black-and-white terms of their contract. The end result is a largely unproductive, resentful work environment for everyone. But is the “quiet quitter” really at fault here?
The quiet quitting debate should be taken as a sign that something is wrong with the western workforce. But the solution — and where to place the blame — may not be as obvious or simple as it seems.
COPYRIGHT 2022 RACHEL MARSDEN